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The four and a half words that may be a warning sign for your birth…

by Ann Charles on May 10th, 2013
Warning road sign

Four and a half words.  Four and a half little, tiny words that can make a big difference to how you feel about your birth.

Not, “Congratulations, Madam – you’re pregnant!”

Nor, “D’ya want fries with that?”

But these:

“They Won’t Let Me.”

“They won’t let me!”  Something you’ve probably said at least once in the last nine months.

It’s a phrase which puts a little chill in my heart, and starts enormous alarm bells ringing in my head.  And I think if you’re saying it a lot, you’re not going to have a happy time.

So let’s unpack it a little:


Who or what is the ‘they’ in your mind when you say this phrase?  A secret, hidden pregnancy mafia out to get you if you do something ‘wrong’?  Your Doctor?  Every Doctor?  All hospitals in the country?  The NHS?

‘They’ makes it sound like ‘them and us’.  Like a war where you are fighting a load of enemy combatants (whilst desperately seeking people who are on your side).

It’s a nameless group of people, and like the weird shadowy figures in nightmares – those figures are to be feared.

So name the person or thing causing your trouble.  It will bring you more clarity about where the problem lies.  The clarity should reduce your fear – and point you in the direction of people who can help.

‘Won’t Let’

‘Won’t let’ sounds like you need permission.  It also tells me that maybe you don’t have enough information about what your healthcare provider is recommending.

In the worse case, it suggests a healthcare provider who is patronising you and acting as though you are a child.

What do you really mean by ‘won’t let’?  That something is not recommended?  That something’s illegal?  That something is being held back from you with no justification?  Name it.  Work out what’s behind the statement.  Are you afraid of digging deeper?  Take notice of that feeling: it’s telling you something important.


You!  Wonderful, lovely you.  The phrase is all about how you are feeling.  Frightened?  Frustrated?  Disempowered?  What’s really going on when you say someone ‘won’t let you’ do something?  How do you feel?

How would you like to feel?

The whole thing

OK, this is a bit of tough love – but the whole phrase?

It makes you sound like a child.

Not in an ‘oh she’s four and look how cute‘ way.

But in the way which conforms to Eric Berne‘s theories of how we communicate.

Berne thinks that there are three types of communication personality which humans (of all ages) have.

He names them ‘parent’, ‘child’ and ‘adult’.

In all the forms of communication apart from ‘adult to adult’, the power balance is off in the conversation.

In an ‘adult to adult’ conversation, you are equal with the person you are talking with.

In a ‘child to parent’ conversation, you are giving the other person your power and assuming that somehow their role is to ‘look after’ or ‘be in charge’ of you.

‘They won’t let me’ is not a phrase said by a person who is in control and content with the situation.

It’s said by someone who’s frustrated by their lack of autonomy.


So how can we ‘hook the adult’ and get ourselves back to a place where we feel excited and happy about the pregnancy decisions we’re making?  Here are some suggestions:

Red bell hanging from a door

Ding ding ding ding ding!

1) Sound the alarm bell.

Every time you hear yourself thinking or saying the phrase, “They won’t let me…” – STOP!  Put a picture of a big alarm bell in your mind and congratulate yourself for noticing.

2) Replace words and work out what’s really behind the message.

You’re looking for Who, What, and How I feel/What I’d like…

For example:

“They won’t let me… book a home birth.”



Identify exactly who you mean.  [Who]

The Doctor…

wouldn’t let me

What was the specific situation or cause? [What]

was following the local guidelines about advice for home birth and suggested that I had my baby in hospital

How did you feel or react to it?  [How I feel]

I didn’t know why he was suggesting this in my circumstances and I feel a bit confused.

What would you like to happen or change?  [What I’d like]

I’d like to talk to a home birth expert to see if I have any other options.

Here’s another scenario:

“They won’t let me… have my mother and my husband in the birthing room.”


The Midwife leading the tour round the hospital [Who]

said that their rules are that only one person was allowed into the birthing room to support me. [What]

I am horrified at the idea and feel frightened and torn about who to choose.  [How I feel]

I would like to have both my Mum and my husband with me when I give birth.  [What I’d like]

3) Take action to make it happen!

If swapping the words round meant you identified what you really want to happen with your birth choices, the next step is to …make it happen!  Can you contact a Supervisor of Midwives to change or explain a policy?  Hire a Doula to be your advocate?  Find a local support group for women with a similar medical or birth history?  Come to terms with whatever the situation is, and accept it?

Being in charge of your own birth-related decision-making will feel so much better than someone else making choices you don’t want on your behalf.  Get that warning bell at the ready and ask for clarification until you are comfortable.

I would write more on this, but, y’know… it’s late, and they won’t let me.

When was the last time you thought ‘they won’t let me’?  Did changing the words using the suggestions above help?  Please let me know what you discovered by leaving a comment below.

PS I hope this is obvious, but I’m not suggesting that you ignore the advice of your healthcare providers… just that you are clear in your understanding of the reasons behind what they are suggesting.  Frustration-free birthing FTW!

Thanks to openDemocracy and seanmcmenemy for the pictures.

From → Birth, Doula, Education

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